Microsoft is four weeks into the first alpha of Internet Explorer 5.0 and the company hopes to have the final release version ready before the end of 1998. Internet Explorer 5.0 will natively support the vector graphics file format, which generates far-smaller file sizes than bitmapped graphics such as JPEG and GIF.

"You can render the image in any size or resolution you want and you lose nothing," said Peter Glaskowsky, a senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources. "That's a big win. What you'll see is \[that\] people will use tools like Illustrator and Freehand to produce Web art and \[they\] won't have to guess at what resolution it will be displayed." This is because vector graphics will display correctly regardless of the resolution.

"The desktop is evolving from GUI to a Web interface," said Michael Gotta, a program director at the Meta Group. "This is important for professional interfaces where better graphical engines can represent relationships between information and knowledge and get away from the GUI and page-based metaphor."

IE 5.0 will include Intel's QuickWeb technology, which compresses graphics on the fly, for faster transmission speeds. It will also--finally--support FTP upload, which Netscape Navigator has had for some time. Source don't expect Microsoft's problems with the DOJ to affect the release of IE 5.0.

"They'll offer the stand-alone browser regardless of what happens with Windows 98," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies. "They won't talk much about it. Why publicize the stand-alone iteration of it so opponents can say it is still a separate product?"

So far, there's been no indication from Microsoft about when IE 5.0 will enter a wider beta. Interestingly, Microsoft may also change the name of the product.

"They haven't patched a lot of the fixes they have in IE 4.0," said a source familiar with the Explorer 5.0 alpha release. "They're leaving the code open-ended \[in case\] they have to go in a different direction by the release date.